When Claude Monet was 80 years old, a Parisian photographer was keen on taking photos of him. Monet said to him: “If you really want to know me, take photos of my flowers, they look more like me than I do.”
Recently, I have been thinking about this interaction. Are there things in one’s life that look more like us than we do? Do the objects, interests, or ideas we hold dear somehow speak more about our true essence than our own embodied presence?
Over the past year, my family and I have dealt with death and dying. And whether or not you’ve had time to say goodbye to a loved one, walking with your children through this grieving process is never easy. While our grieving holds many tears, we have looked for ways to delight in our beloved’s true essence. This ‘delighting’ helps us make it through our deep cycle of grief.
Last summer we spent an extended time in the States visiting my mother. We knew she was dying. We also knew that our visit would possibly be the last. So, when it came time to say goodbye, we knew it would not be easy.
To help ease that sadness, we made prayer flags for my mother. We wanted her to know that despite the thousands of miles between us, and despite what the next year will hold for her body and spirit, we were thinking of her, hoping for peace and wholeness. But mostly, we wanted our prayer flags to say, “We see you. We know you. We cherish you.”
Each rectangle holds an image of what we cherish about her. These small and somewhat insignificant objects—a bird, an ice cream cone, a favourite place–captured my mother’s true essence. It was affirming for her to be known and seen by us, especially as her life was waning. It was helpful to make these flags to begin saying our final goodbyes.
Last summer, we left those flags with her so that she would remember our love and know what made her life so special. This summer those flags came home to Scotland with us where they hang in our family room. In the few months since she has died, their constant presence give us a way to live with her death. In our grieving process, healing is found in the connection we make with my mother’s true essence: we all love to eat ice cream and we all love to watch the evening sky change colour. Even in my mother’s death, we are still making connections.
Traditionally prayer flags hang outside, so come mid-Autumn when we celebrate Samhain (the Celtic festival that remembers ancestors), we will hang them in our garden for the elements to catch, sending my mother’s true essence on the winds of the world. While her physical presence is no more, her spirit lives on in each of us.
Prayer flags can be used in many different ways.
A prayer flag can bring to life those who have died too young. We made a set to honour a friend who tragically died. Since we could not attend his funeral, we gave them to his wife and daughter on his birthday. It was a way for us to remember and to cherish him. Hopefully someday they will invite his daughter to reflect on her father’s true essence. She might wonder: why is there a pair of slippers, a few scrabble pieces, a cake, and a mountain on these flags?
A prayer can help in physical healing. We made a set for a friend who was in the hospital with a ruptured appendix. When he came home, we gave him a set of flags with words of healing written on them.
A prayer flag can also help in mental healing. We made a set for a friend who suffers from depression. Writing words of healing and drawing pictures of things we associate with her, we hope to enable her to see a different self, one that reflects the true essence of what we see in her.
Prayer flags are such a tangible way of saying “I am holding you in my thoughts.” They are also a powerful way to say, “I cherish you.”
A prayer flag has the ability to capture one’s true essence and to celebrate that individual. If you choose to hang them outside, it is a powerful way to practice letting go of that which is already gone and to begin to embrace the continuous cycle of life.
Making Prayer Flags
pieces of old or new scraps of fabric
fabric paint or markers
thread and needle
Cut the fabric so you have 6-8 rectangles.
Use fabric markers or paint to design each flag.
Set the design by using a hot iron (don’t forget to place a piece of paper between the hot iron and the fabric).
Sew by hand or by machine the individual flags to the bias tape.
Give as a gift.
Living on the east coast of Scotland with her husband and four children, Nicki is a daily walker, a haiku writer, and a collector of beauty. She writes about the creative life on her blog Just Like Play.